Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 411, April 1, 2007

"It's the business of mass media to distract Americans
from everything that's actually important."


Would You Like to get to Know the Real Life in Cuba?
by Matúš Pošvanc

Credit The Libertarian Enterprise

"You must leave the logic at the airport!" That was the perfect description of Cuba provided by one Cuban to us. And I didn't expect at that time how deep those words would be written in my memory. They immediately came back after two weeks staying in Cuba. We were sitting in the return plane and watching documentary movie which should remain this country to tourists on the board. The movie showed the atmosphere of Cuba. Women sitting next to me waved in every Cuban tone and had a lot of fun. One of them was dressed in Che (Guevara) T-shirt and another one had a military cap with a red star on it. The movie described the typical tourist picture of Cuba: beautiful beaches, cheap services, pretty young women, bronze skin, Tropicana and unforgettable Cuban songs. Yes, all this you can experience on this mystic island. After all Cuba is the pearl of the Antilles, the island of the tropical green, tasty cocktails, famous cigars and beautiful women. But I also saw some different pictures there. Really different ones.

I was in Cuba as an economic expert together with Vladimír Bartovic (the interpreter and the guide) as the part of one of many Cuban projects of the Slovak NGO called "People from Peril". Our aim was to give some lectures for the local NGOs, activists and independent intellectuals about the Slovak transformation period (1989-2006).

And because of this activity, I will remember Cuba from the other side; from the side of ordinary Cubans. I will remember all digressions from the tourist centers into the local ghettoes, meetings with ordinary people and their day to day lives. Simply the real and sometimes terrifying reality of Cuba.

After the immigration line which both we and other 250 tourists passed in "short" three hours, I got out in front of the Jose Marti's Havana airport. First what I felt was the real Cuban air. It stunk so badly that if you stood in the middle of the highway in the rush hour e.g. in L.A. you would have no chance to smell something similar like that. This odor accompanied us most time in Cuba; for 16 hours a day and 16 days together. The environmental activists who are in favor with the left wing policies would be very frustrated. Leftist policy not only failed but totally collapsed in the area of the environmental protection. Cuba could be the appropriate proof. If economy is under the strong political control, centrally planned and economic laws are not presented, you have no chance to speak about the clean environment. The main problem is the huge underdevelopment of everything (cars, industry, all transportation means). Cubans are simply poor to deal with the idea of the environmental protection.

Transportation is itself a tremendous problem in Cuba. There is the lack of any transportation means in Havana and not only in the rush morning hours. If you are lucky and you see e.g. the public bus, it is impossible to get in because it is full like the fish-can. You have to use something else. We found out this rule immediately next morning when we saw trucks carried people to the work, full streets of waving people who were trying to stop anything. Nobody cared what that was and how many people were in. The only question was: "Does IT take me to the work?"

The transportation problems also exist on the regional levels. We saw a lot of people standing at the edge of the road (trackers) who desperately waited for somebody. Some of them told us how the system worked. There is a commissioner who subscribes waiting people into the list. The commissioner has the right to stop any state car (most of them are state-owned) and "load" the people. The word "load" is proper because in one small truck you could see from 40 to 50 crowded people. Yes, tourists can say "interesting, how it works." But, it is not so interesting for the locals. It is an unpleasant reality for them. Sometimes they wait one or two days.

Havana. The city of gorgeous architecture, typical Cuban houses and green streets which had to "touch" every visitor in the past. It also touched me. But today we can only presuppose all this beauty because most of this area is not very far from the new name "Forum — Havana — Romanum". Just turn off from the main street and you will have feeling that somebody bombed the whole area. Are you looking for a cause? You need not go very far. Cubans who live in these houses do not really own them. They cannot sell and buy them, they just live there (the flats and houses were assigned to them). And the effect! Nobody is care about some investments or repairs. You can experience on your own the dream of many leftist intellectuals and politicians: "The beautiful life without disgusting private property rights." Yes, it would be a catastrophe.

You can also see some pleasant things in Havana. The life itself. And the life is really like a pulsar. The sun dips into the see and the twilight is coming. People start to meet at the Maceo Malecón — Havana Bay boulevard: the youth and the old ones, lovers and friends, dandies and classics, hairstyles and fashion eccentrics "ala Cuba", models and typical Cubans charm (big breasts and bottoms), blacks, white and cross-breeds every day. The Maceo Malecón becomes the place for meetings, discussions, singing or just the place for the rest. Splendid view! But don't turn your head on the opposite side of the boulevard! There are just devastated buildings there. The night life pulses in the bars, restaurants or other facilities which look like bars from Havana center to the Vedado (city district). And the fun is very Cuban. Even possibilities to have a fun are also very Cuban. It means poor.

Because we also met the locals we were exposed to the presupposition to gain some intestinal diseases. And it happened. Therefore, we were also familiarized with the health care system in Cuba which is celebrated abroad and it is given many times as a very successful example of the socialist regime. I have to confirm that we had an excellent care for 400 Euro. It is true that we visited the clinic for tourists and prominents. Well, we also tried to find out also the situation of the local Cubans and that was not so "pink". There are not only the problems with health care services but a very limited supply of medicine and restricted access to it are the most problematic. For example, we helped to buy some medicine to one Cuban lady because she could not visit the pharmacy in the clinic designated just for us — the tourists. She told us that there was no possibility to gain this medicine anywhere. If this is the example of the celebrated health care system then "God with us."

The Playas del Este are the beaches in the east of Havana. The most popular and known is the Santa Maria public beach. You can travel there for 25 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) if you negotiate with a taxi driver. You can also drive there by bus no. 404 but it can be very dangerous because you can fall out from the bus. The Cubans could not visit that beach in the past but today it is also open for them. The Beach is full of romped children, drinking Cubans, music bands playing the most known song Gauntanamera, beautiful palms, sunny bright sand, Caribbean breeze and of course a warm sea and huge waves. There is too much garbage on the other hand. If you are there, you will love the Santa Maria beach until you look under your feet! Sometimes it is very difficult because you can hit yourself e.g. by the chicken bone which somebody let there as a "gift" for you. There is no other possibility in the Santa Maria than to accustom to the phrase "the beauty and the garbage". The tragedy of commons is everywhere in Cuba. And Cubans behave to so called "common ownership" by proper disrespect.

The Pinar del Rio District (west from Havana) was the most interesting for me. Glorious Viñales, picturesque land, friendly people, less odor than in Havana, tobacco plantations, by local showers regularly washed green flora and what is the finest — a good road. We were lucky because Hugo Chaves "the younger brother" of Mr. Castro with whom Cuba created friendship for all the times and never otherwise was there a month ago. And the Cubans repaired at least one road. Thanks to God for the official international visits! Thanks to God for Mr. Chavez! Or not? Yes, sorry. We became the Cubans for a while.

The Viñales is the most known tourist destination. A traveler guide described this area probably the most faithful: "there are gradually risen green limestone massifs from the plains of red soil," as thrown from the sky on the earth. The countryside is very similar to the Australian green around Brisbane and you can meet a lot of tourists who admire that beauty. You can visit for example a restaurant and a bar in the cave where you can choose only between a chicken and potatoes or a chicken and beans. Mural de la Prehistoria should not be forgotten. The limestone wall which was painted in command of Mr. Castro in the 1962. You can see some kind of the evolution of the men there and as you can read in the traveler guide "nobody knows what exactly lead Mr. Castro to let to paint this "masterpiece"."

Do you want to know what is going on in Cuba? Just turn on the TV. The Cuban state television is very progressive. It broadcasts all the latest American movies, of course with a proper anti-imperialist commentary (the last movie, we saw, was Sexy pistols, which was actually shown in Europe in movies) and it tries to be very modern. The format of the news was for example very western: a modern design, smiled and sympathetic moderators, proper speed and of course, on the other hand a very socialistic content, e.g.: demonstration for support of Fidel Castro curing, support of the government led by Raul Castro, announcement of the Hotel Nacional workers about the support of the revolution and Fidel Castro curing, a factory which introduced a new production line, sugarcane farmers who fulfilled the plan in 110% or sport achievements of the Cuban sporting teams on the national or international levels.

You can really see a lot of propaganda in Cuba: many billboards against the Imperia (it means the USA), some definitions of revolution which is of course still in progress, many signs in districts like En cada Barrio revolución (The Revolution in every district), Socialismo no es sólo la justicia, sino también efectividad y calidad! (The Socialism is not only justice but also efficiency and quality) or Comandante el Chefe. Ordene! (Our Boss. Lead us!). There is very popular to celebrate so called Héroes de la Republica de Cuba (The heroes of Cuba). There were some Cuban agents in the CIA who were uncovered. Local people tell many stories about them and the funniest was this one: "They were revealing by Fidel Castro himself. They sent to Cuba some information about the plans of an attack on Cuba from American side, and Fidel Castro thought that Mr. Bush did not about those plans of the CIA. So he asked Mr. García Márkquez (writer) to ask Mr. Bush if it is true. Because of many given details, it was clear that those information could be just from good informed sources from the CIA and the net was uncovered in one week." O.K., you can believe or not, but I like it. However, these heroes are celebrated in the whole Cuba. It means that their posters are in the hotels, hospitals, restaurants, public places, on the billboards or just as some pictures on the walls. If the Cuban regime ends and they will be randomly released, I will recommend them to become the face of some commercials. They could be very rich because all Cubans know them.

The end of our journey was very sad for me. It was very difficult to look at some tourists. They bought symbols of the communist Cuba as souvenirs: the DVD about Fidel Castro, his speeches and propaganda about the economic development of Cuba, military caps as the symbol of revolutionists, T-shirts with Che -- the killer. It was really sad. Because if you want to find out something about the real life of Cubans, you have to meet the locals and ask them: "How are you?" But then the tourist´s dream disappears very fast. I don't want to tell: "not to go to visit Cuba. The tourism and abolishing of trade barriers are very important for Cubans in my opinion. Every dollar or Euro is important. And more Cubans will be richer, more informed and more Cubans will be against Mr. Castro. Why? Because they will be able to compare, they will not be afraid that after the collapse of the regime something terrible happens and they will see more options to do something.

The real life in Cuba is possible to describe by one word: "Castro-trophe". The catastrophe cooked according to the recipe named "ala Fidel". And the recipe is very easy to recognize for any candidate for an evil-doer. You have to regulate and plan the economy, abolish private property rights, nationalize, introduce very high taxes, obstruct some entrepreneurship activities and promote mottos like "everything belongs to everybody," "equality and social justice is the right and privilege" or something similar like Me (e.g. Fidel Castro) and we (it means my government) give you anything you want. These acts transformed into the long-term policy ravages any country and environment, brings about poverty at least for 11 million people and lay down any economy on the knees how many times you want. Mr. Castro is according to media at the edge of his death today. And if this policy lasts after his potential death we can just estimate. But Cuba could be an ideal country where people will live in peace and prosperity. Cuba could be rich very fast. It has all presuppositions for this development. Does it happen? It will be shown probably in a very close future. But without implementation of more economic reforms which lead to the market economy and introduction of personal freedom we will still have to let our logic at the Havana airport.

Matúš Pošvanc is the senior fellow of the F.A. Hayek Foundation Bratislava, Slovakia.


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